Written by: Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon Directed by: Stephen Herek Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor
Released by: MGM Region: 1 Rating: PG Anamorphic: No.
My Advice: Rent it.
Bill and Ted (Winter and Reeves) are on the verge of not only flunking history, but being separated by those pesky and hacked off parental units. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, but then their dream of making their “band,” Wyld Stallyns, a huge success. And that in turn wouldn’t be such a big deal, but apparently the future of humanity depends on the two nitwits sticking together and making something of themselves. Enter Rufus (Carlin), empowered by the 27th Century to return in time (via a machine disguised as a phone booth) and empower Bill and Ted to witness history firsthand and enlist the help of many famous figures to try and pass their history report.
Written by: Otto Bettmann Published by: Random House
Last year, there was a PBS miniseries called The 1900 House. A modern family in England went to live in a house where everything they did and everything they used was from the year 1900. You got to see them operate a coal burning stove, cleaning with a manual vacuum cleaner, and of course wearing a corset. The 1900 House effectively fractures the myth of the “good old days”.
If The 1900 House fractures the myth, The Good Old Days – They Were Terrible disintegrates it.
The book briefly touches on the ills of the late 1800s, many that are still with us today: industrial pollution, the working poor, and inadequate public education, etc. Fortunately, many problems in the book are no longer with us or at least lessened in severity: child labor, adulteration of food, and the treatment of the mentally ill, to name a few. Each dilemma is only given about a page or two because the book relies on pictures to tell the story. Otto Bettmann founded the Bettmann Archives (now unfortunately owned by Bill Gates). It encompasses over three million prints and photographs of everything from important historical events to pictures of medical tools and sunglasses. It is used by magazines, newspapers, advertising, and textbooks. Many consider it the visual record of the 20th century.
Developer: Firaxis Games Publisher: Infogrames Platform: PC (Win 95/98/Me/2000) ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
In the movie business, it is a rare thing when sequels are as good as the original. But in the video game industry, the reverse is true. One of the latest examples is Civilization 3, the turn-based world conquering strategy game from Sid Meier. For those who think Pong is the height of computer games, the Civilization series has you start with a band of settlers that found a city. You gather resources, build city improvements, research scientific progress, train troops, and interact with other nations through diplomacy and warfare. Through building Great Wonders, committing espionage, and trading luxury goods, you work to make your civilization the greatest in the world. This game has special significance to me because this was the first game I ever stayed up all night playing. I remember thinking, “Why is the sun up? It’s only…Damn!”
Developer: Black Isle Studios / Snowblind Studios Publisher: Vivendi Universal Platform: Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube (reviewed on PS2) ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
With the overwhelming success of the Baldur’s Gate franchise on the PC and Mac, it was perhaps inevitable that sooner or later, Black Isle would attempt to jump the fence into console gaming territory. The result of this endeavor, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is a visually stunning execution, with excellent sound, intuitive gameplay, and a better implementation of the Dungeons & Dragons rules set than any other recent attempt (Pool of Radiance 2, anyone?).
Dark Alliance starts innocuously enough – as a neophyte adventurer, you wander into the city of Baldur’s Gate to seek your fortune, only to be mugged and left for nearly dead in the street. Your quest to exact retribution against those that robbed you uncovers a plot stemming from a decades-old conflict that threatens the very existence of the city and its inhabitants. Aided by various individuals within Baldur’s Gate and without, your quest takes you to the sewers of the city, rugged mountain cliffs, murky swamps, and icy caves, all in an attempt to find the source of the threat to Baldur’s Gate and put it to the sword (or axe, or spear, or what have you).
The story, while stock epic-fantasy fare, is actually quite good, and furthered by some remarkable voice talent. Every individual you interact with (except those that merely attempt to kill you on sight) is voiced, unlike so many other text-driven RPGs. The visuals in this game are unbelievable. Dark Alliance pushes the capabilities of the PS2 platform as high as I’ve seen. Of particular fascination are the water and explosion effects, both of which kept me entertained for quite some time by themselves. (Hint to prospective players: if you find yourself facing invisible foes, find some water and stand in the middle. Tracking them by the wake they leave makes it much simpler.)
Gameplay is quite simple, and makes good use of the controller to handle all major tasks without having to pop in and out of endless menus, which disrupts the flow of gameplay. The approach taken to the spell and feat systems of Dungeons & Dragons is a clever interpretation that suits the mechanics of console gaming very well.
The only hitches in the game (and the only thing keeping it from the prestigious 5-Cup Rating) are the limitations on character selection (you have your choice of three – Human Archer, Dwarven Fighter, or Elven Sorceress), and the relatively short time it takes to beat the game. At the Normal difficulty level (middle level of three available), I clocked in at 11 hours, 30 minutes to complete the entire scenario. That’s a little slim, particularly since there didn’t seem to be a large number of “side quests” or “easter eggs” to make replaying the game all that different from the first time through. The multi-player option might add a little depth to that, though it looked like it just added more monsters to each screen.
So, in short, I’d say rent it until the price comes down. If you’re a true CRPG junkie, you might get more kicks out of playing through the game with each available character. If you ever spot a copy on the cheap, the graphics alone make this one worth owning. Black Isle has raised the bar for what the PS2 console is graphically capable, and I look forward to seeing other developers rise to that challenge.
Written by: Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson Directed by: Wes Anderson Starring: Gene Hackman, Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Anjelica Huston
My Advice: Don’t miss it.
The Tenenbaums were a bit of a sensation way back when. They’re a portrait of a family that peaked way too early. Richie (Luke Wilson) was a star tennis pro. Margot (Paltrow) was an award-winning playwright. Chas (Stiller) was a very successful businessman. They were all prodigies, which means when you and I were sitting around watch the Bozo show, they were out getting famous. But now, times have changed, and the three siblings have lost their luster. Was it because of the split between their father and mother (Hackman and Huston)? Was it because they just blew their wad too soon? Or was it just the general neuroses that come with being part of a family?
Written by: Tim Powers Published by: William Morrow & Co.
One of the charms of the Harry Potter series is that it depicts a world of haunted, mysterious castles, boy wizards, and strange, magical beasts alongside our mundane, everyday world. A world out of reach of all the boring, unimaginative people, but where you can escape to and experience all its marvels. However, what J.K. Rowling has created is wonderful, it is still in essence, a children’s story. If you like the concept of a secret and supernatural world, but want a more complex, adult read, there are the works of Tim Powers.
Tim Power’s latest work, Declare, is an excellent example of his work. Like most of his work, Powers gives us a historical landscape to start with, some familiar territory. In Declare it is Europe and the Middle East during WWII and the Cold War. Andrew Hale is a British spy of the John le Carre mold, his profession both stimulating and numbing. But while he is battling Nazis and Communists in the shadows, there are other far older and powerful entities he has been enlisted to fight. The ancient Arabs call them djinn, beings composed of sand and fire and wind and what they imagine is done. Centered on Mount Ararat in Beirut, Kim Philby, head of British counter-intelligence and Soviet double agent, is working to strike a terrible bargain with the djinn to ensure Russia’s stability and power. Andrew Hale seems fated from birth to be part of this battle, but can he win it? Can he trust his fellow spy and lover Elena Ceniza-Bendiga and his supervisor and mentor James Theodora? Can Hale complete Operation Declare without losing his life and his soul?
Written by: John Cusack, D.V. DeVincentis, Tom Jankiewicz & Steve Pink Directed by: George Armitage Starring: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Joan Cusack
Released by: Walt Disney Video Region: 1 Rating: R Anamorphic: No.
My Advice: Rent it.
Martin Blank (Cusack) has received the dread call. You know the one I’m talking about. The ten year high school reunion call. But Martin is not your average prodigal son. You see, he’s a professional killer and he’s good at his job. He disappeared into the military after high school and well, here he is. But he feels he’s losing his edge, and to make matters worse: not only is he face to face with the girl (Driver) he ditched at senior Prom, but an enterprising fellow hitman (Aykroyd) wants Blank to join his new professional killer’s union–or else.
Written by: Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling Directed by: Chris Columbus Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris
My Advice: Don’t Miss It.
After the death of his wizarding parents at the hands of the terrible He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Harry Potter (Radcliffe) as an infant is left with his closest living relatives–the magic-hating Dursleys (delightfully hateable Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw, along with Harry Melling). This was a decision made by Albus Dumbledore (Harris), Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Rubeus Hagrid (Coltrane), all on staff at Hogwarts–the premiere wizardry and witchcraft school. Now that Harry has turned eleven, it’s time from him to come back to the world of magic and claim his heritage. But there’s more afoot at Hogwarts than just teaching. Hagrid and Dumbledore are trying to protect something–something secret and very powerful–and someone else is trying to steal this particular something. Harry, along with his newfound friends Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) find themselves caught in the middle–and in grave danger.